Three Short Reviews (Calvary, About Alex, and The Trip to Italy)

CalvaryThis week’s been a little busy for me, and so, I haven’t had the patience to sit down and plan out a full review out of any of the new releases I’ve watched lately. But here are some short reviews with my thoughts on three movies that you can probably watch right now either in theaters, or in VOD, or that you will be able to watch very soon.

John Michael McDonagh’s second film reunites him the lead actor of his first film, The Guardwhich ended up becoming the most successful independent Irish film of all time. This time, Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James, the Catholic priest of a small town in the Irish seaside. The movie starts with a man announcing, during confession, that he had been molested by a priest when he was a young boy, and that he plans to get revenge by killing Father James, even though the had nothing to do with his molestation. The mysterious voice gives the Father one week to put his affairs in order, on the seventh day, they will meet at beach, where the priest will meet his death.

First of all, that is quite a fantastic premise for a movie. Despite the movie not being a mystery about who will kill the priest (the town in which the movie takes place is actually so small that the Father immediately recognizes the voice of the man who threatened to kill him), it unfolds like some kind of neo-noir, in which Father James plays the lead detective that doesn’t have any mystery to solve. He goes around having many different conversation, and we get to meet a town full of colorful characters that give texture to the movie’s existential exploration. Calvary is an incredibly relevant film, that tries to explore what it means to have faith, especially when said faith is tied up to an institution that has served to identify a country (such as this fantastic version of Ireland), but whose image has been diminished thanks to recent controversy.

The real pleasure of Calvary -which has an amazing script, and appropriately stylistic direction that makes the whole story feel like a fable, or a fairy tale- is the lead performance by Brendan Gleeson. His Father James is one of the most complex and fully realized characters of the year. He is a man of deep faith, no nonsense, and actions that are rooted in deep humanity. Gleeson plays the world weariness, the sorrow, and the ridiculous comedy like a true master of his craft.
Grade: 8 out of 10

About AlexAbout Alex
In almost every review, About Alex has been, rightfully, compared to Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big ChillIt’s a comparison the movie itself invite us to make, having one of its characters declare that “this is just like one of those eighties movies”. In The Big Chill, a group of college friends reunite for a funeral. In this movie, a group of college friends reunite after one of them, the titular Alex (Jason Ritter) attempts to commit suicide. This is the first feature from writer-director Jesse Zwick, who turns out to be the son of Edward Zwick, a director that came into the scene in the late eighties with the television series Thirtysomethingwhich in turn, seemed to be deeply inspired by the characters in The Big Chill.

The weakness of About Alex is that it feels transparently like a first feature. It doesn’t take any unexpected turn. Everything feels a little too calculated, and fake. You can never hear what the characters are saying, and not picture the dialogue on the page of a screenplay, each line sounding like the fulfillment of a prefabricated purpose, and not the words of a human being. It’s a shame, because the movie features a very talented cast of young actors. Chief among them are Max Greenfield, who thanks to the wonderful comedic muscles he is able to flex weekly in New Girl, milks every line out of an otherwise exasperating character, and Aubrey Plaza, who can’t really compete with the lackluster nature of her character, but is doing something that I haven’t seen her do before. At the end of the day, though, About Alex feels like something I have seen a million times (especially in the work of young playwrights).
Grade: 4 out of 10

Trip to Italy The Trip to Italy
In 2010, director Michael Winterbottom teamed up with comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Tripa movie that featured the actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves, that drove around the English countryside in a culinary tour that featured numerous Michael Caine impressions while exposing the men’s insecurities about their age, career, and each other. Now, four years later, the team comes back together, driving around the Italian peninsula in a trip colored with familiar Caine impressions, and a touch of Alanis Morissette music.

The good news is that The Trip to Italy is as hilarious as the first Trip. The great news is that it might actually be a deeper, more complex movie as its predecessor. Coogan and Brydon are as funny as ever, only this time they are engaging in conversations and situations that reflect their inner conflicts about becoming older. They talk about Byron, Shelley, and other Romantic poets that lived fast and died young. They visit Pompeii and look at the many petrified bodies. Much like Louis C.K.’s Louiethe tone with which this team looks at their neurosis while mercilessly making fun of themselves makes The Trip to Italy not only the funniest movie of the year, but one of the most poignant.
Grade: 8 out of 10

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